First things first – bombings & governance

Image: The Aside Blog ; Visualization: Out of Sight, Out of Mind,

Derek Gregory at Geographical Imaginations shares this interesting special issue – Game of Drones of the New Inquiry. From the set of essays, Madiha Tahrir‘s reportage on bombings in Pakistan is a painful read of what the human condition looks like amidst the killer drones which has been more frequent in the Pakistani skies that the birds themselves perhaps.

Here is an excerpt from her essay Louder than bombs – 

When you ask Sadaullah or Karim or S. Hussein and others like them what they want, they do not say “transparency and accountability.” They say they want the killing to stop. They want to stop dying. They want to stop going to funerals — and being bombed even as they mourn. Transparency and accountability, for them, are abstract problems that have little to do with the concrete fact of regular, systematic death.’

Concerns of a weak or failed state are not that of transparency and accountability. It is violence. This is what Madiha’s reporting from Pakistan shows. The extreme violence and destruction that envelopes the countries must be acted upon first and foremost. I felt this even as we endlessly discuss transparency and accountability in graduate programs in development, public policy and international relations. It is not to argue that these are less important but that governance issues are of secondary concern. Moreover, these are long term pursuits which are tweaked and tinkered with as a country rolls down the path. It does not take a human toll in the way that bombings does and drone attacks do. If in Pakistan one could not get a decade long drone attacks to stop, where is the chance of realizing anything on the governance front and of the golden ideas of transparency and accountability.

I find that discussions on governance, especially in failed states and weak states seldom talk of violence. This often is the backdrop in which the failures of governance are likely to operate. And yet, there is an assumption that accountability of governments and transparency of institutions are essential criterion for alleviating such states. How does one achieve this without putting an end to the violence of various kinds that these states are going through – could be civil war, bombings, drug wars etc. Dispensing with this issue and pursuing a sanitized discussion on how governance operates in these states and ways to improve it, I find is futile.

Violence is comparatively easier problem than governance. An interesting example is El Salvador where a truce between major drug gangs led to an almost immediate drop in killings across the country. Daily killings averaged 5.5 after the truce from 14 killings per day. The case cited is that of a domestic affair of a country. Yet it is illustrative of the change in human and civil atmosphere that it brings about for people to then think about other challenges at hand.

It could be argued that Pakistan’s case is a bit too complex. And such reasoning as – it is easy enough to stop the bombings, is rejected as naive. But lets see it this way. If something as clear and attributable as bombings (and drone strikes) is hard to stop then is cutting the gordian knot of governance in these states any easier?

Here is a Pakistani kid talking of how he likes his days to be –

“Now I prefer cloudy days when the drones don’t fly. When the sky brightens and becomes blue, the drones return and so does the fear. Children don’t play so often now, and have stopped going to school. Education isn’t possible as long as the drones circle overhead.

Drone Strikes: Tears in Congress as Pakistani family tells of Mother’s Death

So what do we talk about first?

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